April 3, 2020

COVID-19, students leaving hurts local businesses

COVID-19 cases have not yet peaked in Ohio. Oxford and the rest of the state remain in shutdown, but the city is already planning to launch its economic recovery.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has ordered non-essential businesses to close their doors to fight the spread of the virus. That has put Oxford and a lot of other places in an economic crisis, said Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene.

But Oxford’s situation is worse than many other towns because its economy is intertwined with the operations of Miami University. And Miami, the city’s largest employer and largest landlord has ordered all non-essential employees, including most of the faculty, to work from home. Also, Miami has converted all classes to online teaching and closed down the dormitories. That means most of the thousands of students, faculty and staff who make up the bulk of Oxford’s retail customers, are gone.

“We deal with them leaving every summer, but now they're gone from March . . . ,” Greene said. “Now we have businesses closed and people unemployed.”

Andrew Amarantos, owner of Skipper’s Pub, 121 E. High St., and SDS Pizza, 7 E. Chestnut St., said the impact of the virus is taking a toll on many local businesses.

Skipper’s Pub on High Street still offers carryout and delivery service, but the state-ordered halt to in-house dining puts a severe crimp in the business. Photo courtesy of Skipper’s Pub.

“If you have no money coming in, how can you maintain your bills, how can you pay your employees, how can you maintain your fixed incomes every month?” Amarantos asked.

Skipper’s and SDS are continuing to fill carry-out and delivery orders, but the staff has been greatly reduced because no on-premises dining is permitted under the governor’s order.

“We’re really putting out on Facebook and stuff please call your order in, please have patience, if you want to wait outside, wait outside,” Amarantos said.

Skipper’s Pub, like many Oxford restaurants, tries to encourage customers to make pick-up and carryout orders during the virus crisis. Photo courtesy of Skipper’s Pub.

One of the problems they have run into with delivery is keeping their drivers safe, as worldwide access to protective items such as hand sanitizer is low. Amarantos said his delivery drivers alert the customer that the order has arrived and left it on the doorstep in order to reduce person-to-person contact.

City leaders are discussing plans to help local businesses in this time of crisis.

Greene said plans for the economic recovery are inspired by nearby Hamilton, Ohio. Hamilton is setting aside funds to buy gift cards from the local businesses to inject money into the economy.

“Phase one is an injection of cash into our local businesses as we are able to,” Greene said.

This would entail the city giving a grant to the Community Improvement Corporation, and then that organization would go out and buy a number of gift cards from different businesses to inject cash into businesses, Greene said.

The project is still in very early planning phases, according to Greene. City leaders are working with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce to survey local businesses.

“We know there's need, but what is the biggest need?” Greene said.

The city is putting together a small committee of representatives of business owners from different types of businesses in Oxford. These include a restaurant owner, a retail owner, and someone from the service industry, according to Greene. This group will work with people from the Community Improvement Corporation to lay out the economic recovery plan. The next step is to seek approval from the entire Community Improvement Board, and then further approval from council on April 7. (The meeting will be held online).

“We’re looking at what are other things we can do as a city to help with economic recovery,” Greene said. This includes providing information on loans and grants available through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), she said.

“Some of those SBA loans will be grants and not loans, or some loans will be forgivable, so we’re sharing that information,” Greene said. Enjoy Oxford, the city’s visitors’ bureau, has plans to encourage commerce in the city as well, according to Director Kim Daggy.

“While we may not always be the one throwing events, part of our mission is also to amplify the voices of the businesses and organizations who are putting things together,” Daggy said.

According to Daggy, virtual collaborations with businesses are happening. For example, Books & Brews, 107 E. Church Street,  is partnering with Enjoy Oxford for a virtual date night on Saturday, April 4.

“We’ve reached out to local businesses through our monthly newsletter to let them know we’re available to them for more collaborations like this,” Daggy said. “We hope we can create a series.”

Other economic efforts the city is making during the virus emergency include free parking uptown and a temporary halt to shutting off anyone’s utilities for overdue payments.

“We know this is going to be an economic hardship, but pulling these ideas together is beginning in earnest,” Greene said.

For local residents, the city sent out a list of resources that could provide economic assistance.

These include:

Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families SELF: An emergency utility service.

Oxford Family Resource Center: Provides emergency financial assistance and case management.

Oxford Seniors: Provides transportation, food delivery, and outreach services to seniors in the area.

Oxford Community Choice Pantry/ TOPSS: Provides food assistance.

Talawanda Schools: Provides food for district families.

For more information on COVID-19 visit Oxford’s website: https://www.cityofoxford.org/news/2020/03/community-response-threat-covid-19